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Media Coverage | Smaller Pittsburgh-area foundations target minorities, mental health issues with COVID-19 relief funds

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By Joyce Gannon | Pittsburgh Post Gazette | May 1, 2020 | Read the full story

Jasiri X, co-founder of 1Hood Media, performs at the Andy Warhol Museum, North Side, in 2018. 1Hood Media is among the groups receiving money from Opportunity Fund’s COVID-19 Response Fund. (Alexandria Wimley/Post-Gazette)

Pittsburgh’s largest philanthropies, with storied names like Mellon, Hillman and Heinz, quickly marshaled millions of dollars in resources to address the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smaller foundations in the region have also stepped up by creating emergency funds and making grants to respond to specific needs for minorities, people with mental health challenges, and families that need basic supplies like cribs and diapers.

The Opportunity Fund, which focuses its grantmaking on the arts and social justice, created a $500,000 COVID-19 Response Fund to support a diverse mix of small- and mid-sized arts groups and grassroots organizations that are providing advocacy through the crisis.

On Thursday, the fund said it has committed $463,200 to date to its pandemic response.“We believe our role as a foundation is arguably more important now than at any other time,” said Jake Goodman, the fund’s executive director.

“No amount of money will solve the problem but it feels good to help,” he said.

Of the total distributed from Opportunity Fund’s emergency response fund, 43% went to black-led organizations, 35% to white-led organizations and 23% to agencies with Latino or multi-racial leadership.

“We applied a lens of racial justice to our decisions,” the fund said on its website.

Launched in 2015, the Opportunity Fund honors the late Gerri Kay, a Squirrel Hill resident described by Mr. Goodman, her nephew, as “a social justice warrior … and huge patron and lover of the arts.”

Its largest COVID-19 emergency grant, $25,700, is for the Alliance for Global Justice to provide bail and cash cards for individuals exiting the Allegheny County Jail.

Among other recipients of the grants — which range from $5,000 to $15,000 — are the Abolitionist Law Center, which works on advocacy issues at the jail; 1Hood Media, a collective of artists and activists who use art to raise awareness of social justice issues; Ujamaa Collective, which is organizing #HillMasksOn to sew reusable cloth face makes for the Hill District neighborhood; United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh, which assists local members of the Somali Bantu community; SisTers Pittsburgh, which provides resources for transgender individuals; and Casa San Jose and the Latino Community Center, agencies that assist Hispanic and Latino immigrants and their families.

The fund has closed applications for the emergency funds.

Also this week, the Jefferson Regional Foundation said it awarded $341,000 from its COVID-19 Emergency Fund to 11 nonprofits providing relief in the South Hills and Mon Valley area.

The foundation’s grants — which range from $5,000 to $35,000 — focus on health and wellness and include funds for communities of color and people who lack health insurance.

It is still taking applications for future grants at

Recipients in the first round of funding include Beverly’s Birthdays to distribute diapers and infant crisis kits; Cribs for Kids for cribs and other supplies; the Bhutanese Community Association for needs including laptops and grocery cards; and the Veteran’s Breakfast Club for equipment and technology to hold virtual meetings.

In early April, Staunton Farm Foundation said it awarded nearly $450,000 to organizations providing mental health treatments and other supports to people during the pandemic.

The foundation has focused on mental illness since it was launched in 1937 by the estate of Matilda Staunton McCready who stipulated her fortune be used to treat people with mental health issues.

In a statement announcing its grants, Joni Schwager, executive director, said the pandemic prompted “a huge increase in crisis calls because people are isolated, anxious and need help.”

Diagnosed with anxiety depression, if it was just melancholy and sadness with a desire to live, then I would not turn to such strong drugs. Sometimes it’s the only thing that helps me. Xanax by works to relieve anxiety and the symptoms that accompany it: rapid pulse returns to normal, the palms do not sweat, the limbs do not shake with fear, breathing becomes even.

Recipients include Neighborhood Allies for mental health training, The Children’s Institute for telehealth capabilities, and the Women’s Center of Beaver County for off-site shelter.

The foundation is accepting requests at

Last week, the Poise Foundation launched the Critical Community Needs Fund to support small- and medium-sized organizations that are led by blacks and address needs in the black community.

Seeded with a total $350,000 from the Heinz Endowments and the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Poise is raising more money for the fund through donations.

It expects to make its first grants in several weeks.

For information, go to

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